Growing up in suburban Seattle with supportive parents it was easy to take simple essentials such as clean drinking water, electricity and clothing for granted. My folks went through great strides to make sure I had basic needs which allowed me to focus on school and other life skills. Even though I have had to work hard to make any goals I set a reality, I have always recognized that there are many others who have never possessed the same opportunities I have been given.
I was an elementary school child in the 1980’s when the song “We Are the World” hit the airwaves, and the message resonated deep within me. Some may argue that the tune was a publicity stunt, but, regardless, the thesis of the lyrics was still true: there were Third World nations that needed assistance and many of us in the First World had the ability to help out.
This era was also at the height of the Cold War, and it was apparent that the altruistic motives of Communism was not working. People may have become equal, but were equally poor. The Second World nations of the Soviet Bloc needed a change, which began to take place with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Soon thereafter, the Iron Curtain was lifted and with its dissolution came the ability for Eastern Europe to raise itself to First World standards.
I had the opportunity to witness some of this transition and lend support when I volunteered for a service mission to the Czech Republic through my church in 1997, eight years after the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. While taking a dynamic role in helping the church operate with native Czechs, which was small and had an active membership of only several hundred people in a country of 10 million, I had the chance to donate my time to the Czech people in other ways. Such activities included teaching English, creating youth sporting events and volunteering in the public school system. I was also an active participant in manual labor, helping Moravian farmers till their land and rebuild after the floods of 1997 as well as anyone else seeking assistance for the duration of my time in the Czech Republic.
After the completion of my two-year service mission I had to finalize a career choice, which was difficult because I had so many different interests. Dentistry had always been a focus of my academic studies and when I weighed the dental field versus other potential careers, the chance to reach out to less fortunate people and provide an important service helped cement my decision to become a dentist. Reflecting back on “We Are the World” and the needs of developing nations, I wanted dentistry to be a vehicle to help out citizens of my local community as well as abroad.
It was just before attending dental school at New York University that I was introduced to Miracle Corners of the World (MCW) and had a chance to be a part of the wonderful programs they provide worldwide, in particular in Tanzania. The services MCW offers include English classes, computer training and business education, to name a few. Another component to MCW is their oral health program, which provides direct services to the people of Tanzania as well as training dental providers.
My first trip to Tanzania was in 2006 through both MCW and the NYU College of Dentistry Global Reach program. Our focus was in the community of Songea, which is nestled in the southwest corner of the country near Mozambique and Lake Malawi. For the duration of our two week trip we were able to provide dental services to several individuals who did not previously have access to dental care, many of whom traveled for miles to visit us.
My next outreach to Songea was exciting and unique in that I not only provided services directly to patients but was also able to work alongside and train dental therapists. These providers were Tanzanian citizens that can offer dental care year round and improve oral health to natives on a perpetual basis.
I have also had the privilege to visit the Dominican Republic on two different occasions, the first time with NYU Global Reach and the second time with Trinon University to deliver dental implants.
I continue to “heed a certain call” and remain active in MCW. I look forward to providing continuing care to Third World nations as well as advanced training to their dental providers.